HSE University Joins Digital Archive Project of Silver Age Literature
Autograph is a digital archive that grants researchers access to digitized manuscripts of Russian writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Until now, the manuscripts were only available in archives that are closed to researchers and the public and located in different cities and countries around the world.
As Elena Penskaya, Head of the School of General and Applied Philology, explains, Autograph appeared in 2014 thanks to a group of researchers from the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI). The project, which allows students, scholars, and lovers of literature alike from around the globe to study manuscripts in digital format, almost immediately gained the support of the Pushkin House and the Russian Science Foundation.
With the backing of the Russian Science Foundation, HSE University became a member of the project in 2019. According to Penskaya, this was a logical step for the university, since HSE University collaborates with a wide range of international universities and archives that preserve the literary heritage of the Russian emigration. In addition, HSE University is one of the leading institutions in the development of digital technology.
‘Seeing the writers’ manuscripts allows you to see familiar texts in a new light: you can view every stage, every movement in the creative process—from the writer’s first notes in his or her diary, to the rough and final handwritten drafts, to the handwritten corrections on the pages of published works, newspaper clippings, notebook margins, and letters. Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, all of this information was previously inaccessible: archival collections are housed in different cities, and sometimes in different countries. They are not always readily available. Digital archives present a solution to this problem. Now, no matter where you are—whether you’re in Moscow or St. Petersburg, in Russia or abroad—you can work with a manuscript copy right on your computer and even enlarge the image of the original on your screen so that you can view the document up close and discern fragments that are illegible or have been erased or crossed out by the author.’
The digital archive has received materials from the Anna Akhmatova Museum at the Fountain House and the Russian State Library. Currently, the archive holds 12 sites dedicated to Russian writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries with more than 20,000 digitized manuscript pages.
Not only Russian researchers, but also Slavic scholars from universities in the USA, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, and Serbia work with the online archive. Most of the users are students and graduate students.
Over the next three years, Autograph will be focused on collecting a digital history of texts from the first third of the twentieth century. The ultimate plan is to cover the past century in its entirety
Currently, the HSE School of General and Applied Philology, in cooperation with its partners, is preparing websites for five writers: Mikhail Bulgakov, Andrey Platonov, Mikhail Sholokhov, Isaac Babel, and Mikhail Zoshchenko. Until 1993, most of these archival materials were held in so-called ‘special storage’ (spetskhran). Still today, the indicatory stamp ‘NV’ (Ne vydaiutsia – ‘Not issued’) is imprinted on the files holding these materials. Even after these ideological barriers were removed, however, too many logistical obstacles remained, keeping these materials inaccessible. Moreover, historically, Russian literature of this period is closely connected not only with Russian culture of the Silver Age and Soviet life of the 1920s and 30s, but also the culture of Russian emigration, wherein passing literary archives to foreign collections became common practice.
‘One of the most important problems in the textual study of twentieth-century Russian literature is the need for a comprehensive textual history that is based on materials from the Russian and foreign repositories and the need to make these sources accessible to researchers in their entirety. Autograph is an important step towards completing this non-trivial task,’ says Elena Penskaya.
Almost 40 teams took part in the ‘Through the pages of Basmania’ quest, organized by the Higher School of Economics as part of an annual citywide event, Library Night. Event participants also staged passages from Romeo and Juliet and attended lectures about theatre at HSE library.
HSE’s Preparatory Year Programme for international students includes not only intensive Russian language training but also subject specific courses. One such course is ‘Russian Literature’, which introduces international students to classic works by Russian writers such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov. In the course, students read and discuss select texts in the original Russian, which helps them gain a better understanding of the Russian culture and history.
On September 26 and 27, the HSE School of Philology hosted Professor Brian Baer of Kent University (Ohio, USA) for a lecture entitled ‘The Translator’s Biography in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia: Art, Politics, Identity’, followed by a workshop on ‘Teaching Translation Studies’. Following his lecture and workshop, Professor Baer spoke with the HSE News Service about his career as a translator, the role of the translator in society and his recommendations for international readers looking for exposure to Russian literature.
On May 23, Ellen Rutten, Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at the University of Amsterdam, delivered a lecture at HSE on her new book, ‘Sincerity after Communism’. An expert on Slavonic literature and culture, Professor Rutten is involved in numerous projects, including the Digital Emotions group, Sublime Imperfections, and ‘Russian Literature’, a journal where she serves as editor-in-chief.
HSE’s School of Linguistics, along with Samsung and the Leo Tolstoy State Museum, has developed a mobile application called ‘Living Pages,’ which offers users a new way of reading Leo Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace. The programme’s launch coincides with the Russia’s Year of Literature.
On May 15, Dr James Canton of the University of Essex will deliver a lecture at HSE on ‘Wild Writing’, a form of literature that emerged in the mid-twentieth century as a novel way of understanding the urban landscape and nature. The author of numerous publications focused primarily on British travel writing in Arabia, Dr Canton’s lecture will focus on a discussion of local Essex landscapes.
Associate Professor at the Department of Social History Oleg Voskoboynikov has won the Humanities Prize 2014 for his translation into Russian of French art historian Roland Recht’s Le croire et le voir: L'art des cathédrales, XIIe-XVe siècle (Believing and Seeing, The Art of Gothic Cathedrals) in a volume published by the HSE Publishing House. The prize was awarded by the French Ambassador to Russia, Jean-Maurice Ripert who signed a certificate at the ceremony for the winner to travel to France.
Galin Tihanov, George Steiner Professor of Comparative Literature at Queen Mary, University of London, will deliver a series of three lectures at the Higher School of Economics this week. His most recent research has been on cosmopolitanism, exile, and transnationalism. Professor Tihanov recently sat down with the HSE news service to speak about his research and teaching interests, including his work on Russian literature.
As part of the UK-Russia Year of Culture famous Russian critic and professor of literature, Igor Shaitanov delivered an open lecture at the HSE Nizhny Novgorod on questions of Shakespeare’s creative life.
December 5-6, 2013 HSE held an international conference “Diderot, Encyclopaedia, Enlightenment”, which was organised jointly by the Philosophy, History and Philology faculties. Russian academics and French researchers from the universities of Caen, Reims, Paris Ouest and Paris Sorbonne all took part in the forum.